The King Whom We Serve – Br. James Koester
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Feast of Christ the King: Proper 29A
Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23
Matthew 25: 31 – 46
We all know that a shift has taken place in the world, and we see it most clearly in last year’s election in this country and the BREXIT referendum in the UK. The shift appears to be away from a global, universal outlook to a more individual, nationalist one. Me First appears to be the watchword, and that has become true about nations as well as individuals. We see this in foreign as well as domestic policy, ranging from trade, to immigration, to security, to health, to education, to gun laws, to the environment, to civil and human rights. We see this as society becomes more stratified and neighbourhoods and communities more uniform. We are losing, or perhaps have lost, our concern for the other and appear to live in a culture that says that I can do whatever I want, and the other person, or neighbourhood, or nation, simply doesn’t matter. Some political commentators see evidence of this, not just at one end of the political spectrum, but at both ends. And some argue that this isn’t a recent phenomenon, but has its roots back several decades.
But this Me First attitude is in stark contrast to the kind of life we are trying to live as Christians, and as a Christian community. It is such a stark contrast, that I have spent some time pondering what it is that sets us apart from the world, and shapes our life as Christians in a fundamentally different way, so much so, that not only are we set apart from the world, sooner or later our values as Christians will set us in conflict with a world where a Me First attitude is king. And that, I think, is the key for us, at least for today: who or what is king over our lives? Who or what rules supreme in our lives? To whom or to what do we owe our ultimate allegiance?
This is a question that people of faith have had to answer for millennia. It’s not a new question. Our First Parents in the Garden answered it. Abraham answered it. Joshua and the ancient People of Israel answered it. People have had to answer this question for generations, and it is a question which we must answer for ourselves. And we have. And we do. You have answered it and so have I. The problem is that we must answer it repeatedly, not just once, but daily and sometimes hourly. To whom or to what do you owe ultimate allegiance?
It is a question that Adam and Eve were asked, and the moment they reached out their hands towards the fruit, they answered the question. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. By reaching out and grasping the forbidden fruit and eating, they answered the question of ultimate allegiance.
Abraham was asked as well. After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; [and] when they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill* his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ By reaching out his hand, and holding the knife, Abraham answered the question of ultimate allegiance.
It was asked of Joshua and the People of Israel. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods…we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’ By declaring that they would serve the Lord their God, the People of Israel answered the question of ultimate allegiance.
It’s clear that God’s people must answer this question for themselves generation after generation. And you have answered it. You have proclaimed to whom you own your ultimate allegiance. You did that the day you entered the font when you were asked: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God? Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I renounce them. I renounce them. I renounce them. I do. I do. I do.
At our baptisms we proclaimed to all the world, to whom and to what we owed our ultimate allegiance. We proclaimed that God the Lord was sovereign over our lives! We proclaimed that Christ was King over us!
But the One who is Lord of our lives, confounds the rulers of this world, for he was born, not in a palace, but a stable; his chariot, a donkey; his throne, a cross; and he rules on his knees. And to find him and follow him, we must be like him.
We cannot find Jesus, unless like the shepherds, we travel to the stable. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
We cannot hail him as our king, unless he comes to us on a donkey. ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
We cannot be like him, unless we take up our cross. Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
We cannot honour him, unless we fall to our knees. After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants* are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
We live in a world haunted by the actions of our First Parents, who thinking only of themselves, reached out and took the forbidden fruit. From that moment, humanity’s temptation has been the love of self, and not the love of God, enthroning ourselves in the place of God. Are we here simply to serve our own needs and desires? Or are we in the service of another and the Other?
As followers of the One who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many, we must do likewise. For unless the king can say of us: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me,” then we are not in the service of Christ the King but in the service of this world whose king is me, me, me.
Our citizenship though, is not in this world. Like Joshua, by our baptisms we have chosen to serve the Lord. Our passports from that kingdom are the scabs on our knees, and the callouses on our hands, and our home is among the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.
We live in a world where Me is king. But our citizenship is not of this world. We are citizens of another country, whose king is a servant, whose orb is a towel, whose scepter a wash basin, whose crown is humility, and whose motto is service. As citizens and subjects of that kingdom, we cannot swear ultimate allegiance in any other way than taking up our towels, holding our basins, and getting down on our knees.
 Genesis 3: 6
 Genesis 22: 1 -3, 9 – 12
 Joshua 24: 14 – 16, 18
 BCP 1979, page 302 – 303
 Luke 2: 15, 16
 Matthew 21: 5
 Matthew 16: 24 – 26
 John 13: 12 – 17
 Matthew 2: 28
 Matthew 25: 40b
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We KNOW what we need to do as Christians. Thank you, Br. James, for bringing scripture alive to help us remember that no matter what the situation or time in history, our ultimate allegiance is to God.
We must have our hands free in order to serve one another. Right now, I have my hands full with a potentially life threatening illness. There are social distancing protocols in place that keep my appearances in public at a minimum owing to COVID-19. I don’t think I should risk my life in order to do volunteer work in person. My service to my wife and family feels like what God is calling me to do. On the other hand, I can make some monetary contributions; I can participate in a group on Zoom; I can write a bereaved widow; I can phone someone who feels forgotten. This is how I discern my commitment to service in the context of the pandemic. Would I like to do more? Definitely. Should I recklessly expose myself to the danger of COVID-19 by visiting the shopping mall? I don’t think that is a judicious use of my life. Is this decision all about me,me,me? I hope not. It’s hard to discern whether I should isolate myself from direct service to those in need. But my hands are full.
As I think about things going on (both in the US but around the world, I’m reminded about something I learned when I was in Junior High. I was 13 years old. My folks had purchased and were in the process of selling the home the home where I grew up. We were having a party (consisting of a gathering of members of the church choir and their spouses). My brother’s God father started talking to my dad – and he was telling him that he couldn’t sell the house to one of those people. He was referring people who weren’t white. Back then there were a few ‘not white’ people who were beginning to integrate into the neighborhood. My first encounter with racism. As an aside, both in grade school and junior high, I had a few classmates and also a 4th grade teacher who was not white (not only not white but a man instead of a woman (he broke two barriors) and I just didn’t notice. Oh Well. I sometimes say that I’m color blind – not in the physical sense but in the sense that I just don’t pay attention.
Maybe the brokenness of my life and career is not brokenness. I could not manage eldercare and my business and chose the former. I’ll never be able to recoup. Maybe the broken pieces are more real than what I had before. When I stand in them, how do I not revert to “me me me” to fix things? You reflect my reality that these are discernments I need to make a dozen times a day. Impossible to do except in Christian community replete with signposts, forgiveness and many fellow (sister) travelers. Thank you for your companionship and guidance via technology.